Cafe Du Monde
1039 Decatur Street
Yeah, I know Cafe Du Monde is on everyone's list, but that is because it is good. I mean, who doesn't enjoy starting the day with fried dough and coffee? No need to look at the posted menu. Just ask for an order of beignets (you'll get 3) and a cafe au lait.
Beignets were brought to Louisiana by the Acadians. They are squares of dough fried in cottonseed oil and covered with powdered sugar. Many places in New Orleans, including Cafe Du Monde, serve a mix of coffee and chicory, which is not to everyone's taste. Chicory is the root of the endive plant and was added to stretch coffee in times of scarcity. Some folks feel it lessens the bitterness of coffee. At Cafe Du Monde, most folks order au lait. That means, 1/2 hot coffee and 1/2 hot milk. I prefer my coffee black most days, but I enjoy it au lait with my beignets.
Please note the line you will see on a weekend morning waiting for a table. If you can't avoid going on a weekend, join the to-go line and then walk across Decatur Street to Jackson Square to enjoy your messy treats and watch the street artists. I'm warning you that powdered sugar can get everywhere...
6100 Annunciation Street
This elegant, but simple restaurant is a bit off the beaten path. We would not have discovered it without a recommendation. (Thanks, Dave.) It is tucked into a residential neighborhood in the Uptown area and full of locals. We needed to take a cab from the French Quarter. You should also plan for a cab ride back, if you don't get your driver's number the hostess can help you out when you finish your meal.
I consider it a toned-down Arnaud's or Galatoire...upscale, but not stuffy. Great service with friendly staff who want you to leave happy. Ask to be seated in Daniel's section. Get the smoked duck and anything with lump crab meat. You won't be sorry.
307 Exchange Alley
This tiny place (I counted 8 table seats and 4 bar stools inside) is hidden away on a pedestrian-only alley. We lucked out by showing up right as they opened at 11, so we were able to get a cozy table for two. The friendly and helpful staff send out a strong hippy vibe (or maybe scent...was that patchouli?). The menu is progressive New Orleans...think seasonal and local ingredients with a few exotic flourishes.
My companion ordered a vegetarian Cuban sandwich with coconut milk. It tasted great...not like anything I've had before. We didn't miss the meat at all. I ordered boudin sausage patties served between sweet potato biscuits with hot pepper jelly and cane syrup and grits on the side. Yum. I'm already at work in trying to recreate it.
701 St. Charles Avenue
This is one of two restaurants we visited that are owned by Chef Donald Link. We didn't really plan to go, but we wanted to see some of the Twelfth Night festivities along the St. Charles streetcar line, and it worked perfectly to grab some drinks and snacks while we waited for the parade. (I'll share more on Twelfth Night in a later entry.)
The menu is a kind of cross between French and Southern cuisines. For the three of us to share we ordered two dishes: shrimp with grits and homemade spaghetti with guanciale and a poached egg. These were just okay...not bad, but far from transcendent. We also ordered sweet potato doughnuts for dessert and I found them to be awful. I think they were not cooked properly, but one of my companions thought they tasted good.
What made this a memorable stop for me, though, was the service. Our waiter seemed to invent his entire personal history for us. You served in the special forces? But now you are a floppy haired waiter without much muscle tone? You have lived all over the world, including Korea? But you don't know what kimchi is and you've never been to Manhattan? Hmmm...entertaining, but not endearing. I'm not sure why we inspired this creativity, but it gave us a few laughs.
547 St. Ann
Located right on Jackson Square, Stanley bills itself as serving New Orleans comfort food. Run by Chef Scott Boswell, this restaurant and its sister place, Stella! were both recommended to us by locals. It has a comfortable and casual atmosphere with friendly staff.
They serve breakfast/brunch all day, which is great if you've visited too many bars the night before, like I did. I ordered a bowl of their gumbo hoping it would offer me the medicinal qualities of gumbo bowls in my past. Not so much. But, their bread was pretty tasty. My companion ordered the omelet sandwich which she voted a success.
This restaurant also came recommended to us by locals. We decided to visit it for Saturday lunch and as we approached we saw a line out the door. Not being immediately deterred, we stepped up. Well, the line moved very quickly and before we knew it, we got to place our orders at the counter. And, the place is huge...we wandered through three rooms before we found a table.
The three of us chose the po'boys - the fried oyster and the Famous Ferdi Special (ham, roast beef, debris, and gravy). What's debris? Those are the bits of roast beef that fall into the gravy when it is being carved...all that goodness is scooped up and poured over the sandwich. The sandwiches were good, especially when hot, but they weren't as flavorful as we hoped. It was corrected with some of the cabbage, pickle, and mayo dressing and plenty of Crystal's hot sauce, but we were still a bit surprised. It is a very popular place and the staff were friendly.
This restaurant is in the Central Business District near a number of the large hotels used for conferences. It can handle large groups, so if you are in New Orleans for a conference, you should add this place to your list.
542 Frenchman Street
This restaurant is located in Fauborg Marigny an upcoming area adjacent to the French Quarter with several great live music venues. It has been described as the locals' version of Bourbon Street. While it is in easy walking distance of the Quarter, it does have a steady stream of cabs running through the area at night.
They have absolutely great prices on down-home Southern cooking and terrific service. The daily specials provide lots of food for a low price. Our table of three enjoyed gumbo, etouffee, fried chicken, fried catfish, greens, and cornbread. We finished our meal with a tasty bread pudding. We could only manage a few bites each and were grateful for the walk back to the Quarter.
301 Tchoupitoulas Street
One of America's best restaurants, August is owned by Chef Jon Besh. The three of us had dinner here on Friday night. The food and service are great here, and when compared to fine dining establishments in other cities - the prices cannot be beat. Plus, the decor is warm and inviting, and while you don't want to wear jeans, it is a very comfortable place. And, even if you don't have much experience with fine dining, this is a restaurant that can help you feel at ease. The staff happily answer any questions and can make accommodations for you without awkwardness.
You can order items a la carte (individual dishes) or prix fixe (several courses provided for one price). Wine pairings can be provided for the prix fixe menus. We chose the a la carte route. Our table started with an amuse bouche of layers of sabayone, egg froth, caviar, and a brioche crouton served in an egg shell. We ordered widely from the menu and all had bites of each other's meals. A great way to dine, in my opinion.
Besides the food and service, I also enjoyed our cocktails. Two of us ordered from the selection of infused bourbons. Delicious. Another inspiration for home experimentation.
930 Tchoupitoulas Street
We spent our last evening in New Orleans at this second Chef Donald Link restaurant. Link embraces a snout-to-tail approach with his modern Cajun cuisine. They have an in-house boucherie for making sausages, bacon, and head cheese and a wood-burning oven for roasting meats and seafood.
Per the recommendation of Chris and Laura McMillen, the bartenders at Bar Uncommon, we steered clear of ordering separate entrees, and ordered small plates to share. It was the perfect solution. It gave each of us several bites of what the kitchen had to offer and wasn't too heavy. I thought the offerings were both familiar and adventurous.
The kitchen isn't the only one offering local ingredients. The bar is focused on my favorites - bourbon and local beers. They also have several brands of moonshine. It was a bit noisy, but it was not difficult to talk at our table and it felt comfortable. And, even though it was a crowded Saturday night, we were not rushed through our meal and the food was delivered in a timely manner. You should definitely give Cochon a chance on your next visit to New Orleans.
923 Decatur Street
Not far from Jackson Square, this small, old-fashioned Italian market is the famous home of delicious muffulettas. Picture a round loaf of soft Italian bread that sandwiches salami, ham, and provolone with a dressing of black and green olives, garlic, peppers, and other goodness. The muffuletta sandwich is just as much a part of New Orleans as the po-boy.
Lucky for us, it was recommended that the muffuletta travels well. So, we saved the stomach space and picked up the sandwiches to carry home on the plane. Central Grocery will sell the sandwiches wrapped and boxed for travel, if you like, but I just took mine to-go wrapped snugly in waxed paper.
The recommendations were spot-on. The sandwich traveled beautifully. The hardest part to taking it home was smelling it on the plane ride every time I jostled my carry-on bag. Ugh...so hungry, but planned to share. Don't worry - the sandwich is big enough to share without feeling deprived. Although now I am wishing I brought home more than one. I'm going to try and create an olive salad to make muffulettas at home. I promise to share it when I figure it out.
NOTE about my pictures: As I mentioned in an early post regarding bars, I have not included many pictures of our meals or the inside of restaurants. That is because I haven't discovered how to balance enjoying the moment and being a considerate patron with taking good pictures. I honestly don't know how to master the lighting, angles, and composition a good picture requires while still maintaining a conversation with my companions and not being an obnoxious jerk to the servers or other patrons. You will just have to take my word for the stuff that is not documented with images.